It's around four months since Twinkle moved in with us as an emergency placement. With two hours' notice we went from a fairly settled family of three, to a decidedly unsettled family of four. It's been a rough old ride to be honest and there have been several days when I have felt sorely tempted to phone her social worker and ask for her to be moved to another placement. I still have my doubts that our busy house with another child very close to her age (and therefore in direct competition for my attention) is the best possible place for Twinkle but we must weigh up the advantages of a different placement against the trauma of yet another move for this vulnerable little person.
Whatever happens, Twinkle will need permanence, so at least one more big move is in her future. Where to, we do not yet know.
But, we have seen progress. While we are a long way from seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, I am beginning to feel as though we have taken a few steps forward. It is still dark, but there is something fresher in the air. We are definitely seeing positive changes.
I can go to the toilet in peace, for instance. For the first three months, every visit to the toilet would be accompanied by a persistent soundtrack of relentlessly loud wailing right outside the door, accompanied by scratching at the wood and rattling the handle. I can't express how delighted I am that this has stopped.
There is no more crying at night. This happened regular as clockwork every night for the first ten weeks and, I think, eventually became something of a habit with well-rehearsed lines on both our parts. The habit is broken. She's actually a great sleeper.
There are signs that she is beginning to value our established routines and see herself as part of them. We have a simple but unvarying bedtime routine but recently, as a result of throwing her new shoes over the garden fence, Twinkle was sent to bed without participating. Her genuine sadness at missing out on our sofa time was, I must admit, a little satisfying (after all - the shoes!), but also an encouraging sign that our little rituals are beginning to mean something to her.
Finally, and this may seem an odd one to some, this week she has left food on her plate several times! I know a lot of parents are frustrated by picky eaters, but for a little girl who approaches every meal as if it might be her last, the few bits of pasta left behind and the words "I've had enough" are very encouraging signs that she's beginning to feel more secure that her basic needs will be met.
Many times over the past four months I've been reminded of that programme, "Protecting Our Foster Kids" and, in particular, of Amy who was featured in the first programme. I remember some of the shocked and shocking comments about her foster carers, and I wonder what some of the commenters might have written if they'd seen the results of someone following me around with their camera as we've tried to re-group and re-establish our family since Twinkle's arrival.
The problem with a child with overwhelming needs is that caring for them can be . . . well, overwhelming! And, however experienced you might be, you do not know what you are getting when you accept a child on an emergency placement. At the point at which you say "yes" to a child sitting in a police station, you do not know their background, their experiences, their personality, their needs. I was not even able to pin down Twinkle's correct age.
And it's not just overwhelming for me. I am an adult and able to rationalise what is happening. Yet even so I have days when I really don't want to get out of bed. For other children living in the house, it can be completely destabilising. OB has had to share his toys, his mum and his personal space with a total stranger who sees herself as being in competition with him for every morsel of food, every word, look, cuddle or moment from me, and even for toilet time. It's a lot to ask. Of course, none of this is Twinkle's fault, but that doesn't make it any easier for OB . . . or for me sometimes, for that matter.
I'm not a fan of the attitude that unless you have experienced something you have no right to hold an opinion on it. Personal experience is only part of understanding a bigger picture. But I will happily admit that I could never have imagined the impact on every single part of my life that fostering would have, and I'm pretty sure someone who hasn't experienced it couldn't imagine it either. A new child comes into your home and literally nothing feels the same. They stay for an unspecified length of time, then they leave and literally nothing feels the same.